How to Hook Up and Use Jumper Cables

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Learning how to hook up and use jumper cables is essential. That’s because if you use them wrong, you can destroy your car’s alternator or cause other problems. It’s also very easy to do correctly, so let’s jump into this subject!

Jumper cables are an important part of any car emergency kit. They connect a charged battery to a dead or drained battery and transfer power from that good battery to the non-working one. If the bad battery is still capable of taking a charge, a jump-start will get the car going again.

If the battery is incapable of taking a charge, or the battery is not the reason for the car not starting, then the jump start will be ineffective. Jump starting a car using jumper cables is a simple process, but caution must be used due to the risk of damage to the car or injury to the person if done incorrectly.

Related Read: Best Battery Jump Starters

How Car Batteries Drain

Human error is the number-one cause of battery discharge. Newer cars often have features that turn interior or exterior lights off when they are left on too long.

However, not all cars have this feature and many older cars definitely do not. Leaving an interior light on, not closing the door, trunk or hatch all the way, or leaving the headlights on are several ways to drain a battery that will result in the need to use jumper cables.

A problem with the car battery charger is another cause of battery drain. Since almost everything in the car is powered by the battery, such as the radio, automatic windows, and air conditioning or heater, the battery is constantly being drained.

If the battery does not recharge correctly on its own while you are driving, this could cause unnecessary wear on the battery and total electrical discharge. It also means that you likely have a problem with your alternator.

Certain items in your car are always drawing a charge, such as the clock or security system. If there is a problem with the electrical charging system, these features will drain the battery prematurely.

An old battery may not fully recharge after use. Over time, the battery will hold less and less of a charge and then cease to function. If this happens, jumper cables may give just enough juice to the battery to get to the auto parts store for a new one.

Safety Precautions

Because car batteries are electrical, safety must always be the number one priority. Otherwise, a serious accident could occur.

  • Never touch clamps together once they have been connected to a live battery.
  • A battery explosion can happen if jumper cables are attached incorrectly. Always connect the cables in the order listed below. You will always connect cables to the dead battery before connecting them to the live battery.
  • Battery acid is another danger of handling any type of battery. Do not touch any fluid leaking from the battery.
  • Make sure the battery post terminals on both cars are clear of dirt and debris. Clean them if necessary. Dirt build up can prevent the jumper cables from making a good connection and may result in a battery explosion.
  • Do not smoke while working under the hood. This could cause a spark and an explosion.

Putting on the Jumper Cables

  1. Pull the working car close to the car with the dead battery. Doing this puts the engines close enough to run the jumper cables easily from one to the other. The cars should be nose to nose.
  2. Attach one red connector clamp to the red battery terminal on the battery you want to charge. This terminal is marked positive.
  3. Connect the other red connector clamp to the red terminal on the good (charged) battery, also marked positive.
  4. Connect one black connector clamp to the working battery terminal marked negative.
  5. Connect the other black connector clamp to a metal section of the car frame or engine block that is unpainted on the car you’re trying to start. This grounds it and prevents any sparks.
  6. Start the engine on the car with the good battery.
  7. Let the engine run for a few minutes to allow the dead battery to charge.
  8. Try to start the engine on the car you’re charging. It should turn over and begin running.
  9. Keep both cars running for another few minutes so that the battery can continue to charge.

Note: If the non-working car does not start after this procedure, then your battery may not be the reason the car doesn’t start.

Taking Off the Jumper Cables

The jumper cables must now be removed, reversing the order in which you put them on.

  1. First remove the black grounding cable from the unpainted part of the frame or engine block on the car that’s receiving the charge.
  2. Next disconnect the black cable from the car that’s providing the charge.
  3. On the car providing the charge, disconnect the red clamp from the red, or positive, terminal.
  4. Then, remove the red clamp from the positive connection on the car that had the dead battery.
  5. Stow the jumper cables safely back in your car or garage in case you need to use them again.

Where to Find Jumper Cables

AmazonBasics BC120725AAmazonbasics Jumper Cable 4 Gauge, 20 Feet
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Jumper cables do not come with new cars, like the spare tire and car jack, and must be purchased separately. You can order them to be delivered to you at sites like Amazon.com. They can be found in any automotive section of a big box store, such as Walmart, or you can find them at car part specialty stores, such as NAPA.

Do-it-yourself stores, such as Home Depot, also carry select automotive parts. If you don’t have a set of jumper cables, a friend, relative, or neighbor probably does, and you can borrow them. However, having your own set will save time.

Coming out of the house or store to find a dead battery on your vehicle will happen to everyone eventually. The good news is that the process of using jumper cables is simple and should take no more than a few minutes once all the pieces are in place: working car, non-working car, and jumper cables.

However, caution must always be used when dealing with vehicle batteries, and these steps should be followed exactly to prevent injury to yourself or damage to either of the vehicles.

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